[kwlug-disc] Open Source intro handout

Richard Weait richard at weait.com
Wed Apr 29 12:33:45 EDT 2009

On Wed, 2009-04-29 at 07:58 -0700, Paul Nijjar wrote:
> I am preparing a handout for an event this Saturday. The event is
> called "Living With Less Money", and is aimed towards those who are
> trying to live well on smaller budgets. Thus the audience for the
> handout is (potentially) less experienced computer users who are
> highly concerned about cost. My aim is to introduce open source to
> these people (in the context of "Computing with Less Money") and give
> them a realistic overview of the area with both benefits and warts. 
> This is a first draft that will eventually make its way to PDF format.
> It is written in Markdown for now. 
> Suggestions and comments are welcome. If you know of other 
> groups/resources/etc that I should mention feel free to send them along. 

Okay.  First impression: excellent.  Some edits / options below.

Best regards,

> - Paul
> Open Source Software
> ====================
> **Open source software** is licenced so that you can legally use it and
> share it with others. If you want, you are also permitted to study the
> program's code, and change the software to better suit your needs. 
> Open source is also known as liberated software, software libre, free
> software, or by the acronyms OSS, FOSS or FLOSS. Software that is not
> open source is known as **proprietary software**.
> Open Source Options
> -------------------
> Software includes both **applications** (such as web browsers and word
> processors) and **operating systems** (such as Windows, Mac OS or Linux)
> that run on your computer. 
> One option is to install open source software on a computer that
> already runs Windows. You may already be running some open source
> software such as the **Firefox** web browser. You can also install the
> **OpenOffice.org** office suite, the **GIMP** photo editing program,
> **GnuCash** personal finance software, or the **Audacity** sound
> editor. These applications and more are collected in the
> **OpenEducationDisc** that we are distributing today.
> Another option is to install an open source operating system instead
> of Windows. One popular open source operating system is **Linux** (also
> known as GNU/Linux). Linux is often packaged together with
> applications into **distributions**. There are many different
> distributions available, but one of the most popular for desktop
> computers is called **Ubuntu**. Today we have the 8.10 release of Ubuntu
> available, also known as Hardy Heron. 
> Running Linux can be a good option if you have a spare computer that
> needs software, or if your current computer does not have a legal
> version of Windows on it. 
> There is also lots of open source software available for Mac OS X and
> other operating systems. We are not distributing such software today,
> but feel free to contact us for resources. 
> Open Source Advantages
> ----------------------
> You can use open source software **legally and at low cost**. This is
> important because illegal software often does not qualify for security
> updates, thus leaving your computer more vulnerable to viruses, worms
> and other computer nasties. In contrast, updates to open source
> software are usually available for free. In general, open source
> software -- in particular open source operating systems -- tend to be
> much **less vulnerable to viruses and spyware** than Windows. (This does
> not mean that computers running open source software are entirely
> safe from threats, however.)
> **Lots of open source software exists**, including good-quality
> alternatives to many popular applications.  Software for niche
> interests varies in quality but is often available. Depending on your
> interest there may already be a community of people who use and
> develop open source software for that need. You can also try different
> software packages cheaply, and usually uninstall them cleanly if you
> don't like them. Linux distributions like Ubuntu collect a wide
> variety of software into **repositories**, which makes discovering,
> installing and upgrading new software especially easy. 
> Open source software exists in a **culture of sharing and
> collaboration**.
> Users help each other with technical support. Most open source
> software is free of nag screens and demands to upgrade to a paid
> product. Open source software is freely given; you can use it without
> feeling slimy or dishonest. 
> If you are interested in jobs in the computer industry, open source is
> invaluable because it gives you **access to the same software tools**
> that are used to power mail servers, webservers, supercomputers, and
> smart phones.  Developing proficiency in these technologies can make
> you more employable without costing much money.
> There are many opportunities to **contribute to open source software**,
> and you are encouraged to do so. You might support other users, write
> documentation, file bug reports, or contribute a plugin to make the
> software you use better. Contributing something back can do a lot to
> boost your self-esteem. 
> Open Source Annoyances
> ----------------------

[perahps, ADapting to the Open Source Way of Thinking]

> **Conversion between open source data files and their proprietary
> counterparts is not always perfect.** For example, the OpenOffice.org
> office suite can read and write Microsoft Office documents, but the
> results may not look identical in OpenOffice Writer and Microsoft
> Word. This can be an issue for things like resumes. One option is to
> distribute documents in PDF format, which is easy to generate and
> looks the same everywhere.

[replacing the paragraph above]

**Conversion between proprietary data formats is imperfect** Changing
versions of proprietary software often breaks your files in subtle or
important ways.  Sometimes proprietary software will allow you to
upgrade from the only most recent previous version.  Open Source
software will often allow conversion from proprietary formats to Open
Formats that protect your file from future conversion problems.  

> You may find that open source software **looks and behaves
> differently** than proprietary alternatives you are used to. You may
> find that features are missing or incomplete in the software. (This
> works the other way as well, however: sometimes the open source
> alternatives offer better functionality than their proprietary
> counterparts.) 

It may take you some time to adapt to the improved performance, power
and security provided my many Open Source programs.  While the tasks you
want to do may be the same, the tools are different and the methods may
change.  Some changes will be subtle, like an icon that looks different
and some are substantial like a different name for a program.  You see
similar changes in proprietary software when companies release major
updates, or when companies go out of business and you have to find a new
software vendor,  

> **Getting help** for open source software can be difficult. Many of us
> have a geeky friend or relative whom we turn to for unofficial
> technical support. If those people do not use open source software,
> you may have to turn to other places for help. Sometimes online forums
> (such as the Linux Questions forum or the Ubuntu help forums) can
> be good resources. Locally, groups like KWLUG 
> exist where people meet and discuss open source software issues.
> Generally members of these groups will not serve as your personal
> unpaid computer mechanics, but they can be good resources for specific
> problems. 

**Getting Help** You can get help for Open Source software in more ways
than with proprietary software.  Some Open Source projects sell
commercial support that is the exact analogue of proprietary software
support services, except the Open Source projects actually have capable
staff.  You may be in the habit of turning to a geeky friend, neighbour
or relative for unofficial technical support with proprietary software.
That is still an option with Open Source software and may allow you to
increase your list of geeky friends.  

Most Open Source projects include a web site and mailing list archive of
previous problems and solutions related to their project.  Those
references are available 24/7 and are generally excellent for questions
related to "How do I install ... or What are the steps to do ...?"  Most
Open Source projects also include mailing lists and IRC chats of people
interested in the project.  Participating on those on-line communities
will often provide immediate feedback and advice for problems you may

> For licencing reasons, certain programs are difficult to write as open
> source software. It can be **tricky to get movies and music files to
> play under Linux** (it tends to be easier in Windows). Open source
> software for playing media like DVDs and MP3s exist in a legal grey
> area, so Linux distributions tend to avoid including such software
> in their official releases. 

Some media companies believe that you don't have the right to use the
things that you buy from them in the ways that you want to use them.
Those backwards companies may try to restrict your rights by using
Digital Restrictions Management on the materials that they sell to you.
It's best to avoid those companies.  When you choose to do business with
that sort of company, Open Source software will often allow you to
convert your media to Open Formats so that you may exercise your rights
on your purchased media.  

> Not all hardware is supported well in open source operating systems.
> In particular, **Linux support for printers, wireless cards and video
> cards can be spotty.** It is best to check that your hardware is
> supported in Linux before attempting to install it. (People running
> open source software on Windows tend to avoid this particular
> problem.) 

Some companies build hardware that supports Open Source software better
than others.  Higher quality hardware with full support for Open Source
software is not necessarily more expensive than low quality, proprietary
hardware.  Caveat emptor applies to computers as well as everything

> **Open source exists in a "do it yourself" culture.** A lot of
> information about programs exist (most of it on the Internet) but you
> have to find it. If features don't exist in software that you are
> using, you are given the options of waiting patiently, paying somebody
> to develop the features you want, or developing those features
> yourself. This attitude can be frustrating, especially to those of us
> who are less technologically-savvy. 

You'll find that most Open Source software "Just Works" and you won't
have to think about it.  But some Open Source projects will warrant more
of your attention because you are a power-user or you have a special
interest or expertise in the subject matter.  You can participate in an
Open Source project in ways that are not possible with proprietary
software by joining the community.  

With proprietary software you may choose to make demands on the
proprietary software vendor and you may see a reply from them.  Or

When you join an Open Source community you communicate with other
interested users, subject matter experts, consultants and often the
software developers of the software.  Without a commercial support
contract the need to scream and stomp about your contract and fees is
gone, so you can relax and have a grown-up conversation with other
interested and interesting people.  Often finding concerned, expert
assistance is as easy as asking politely on IRC or email, with a
description of the challenge you've run into.

> Although it is possible to install new software on your computer
> **without Internet access**, it can be tricky. This is especially true
> for Linux distributions, which break up applications into packages
> that depend on each other. 
> Because it is so easy and cheap to release open source software, the
> **software quality varies dramatically**. 
> The health and quality of open source software depends on its support.
> Applications that are well-supported (by a strong community user base,
> or by a foundation or corporation) tends to work better and be more
> featureful than software written by lone individuals in their spare
> time. 
> Resources
> ---------
> - As the name suggests, the Kitchener-Waterloo Linux Users Group (KWLUG)
>   consists of people interested in Linux in particular and open source
>   in general. The group runs monthly presentation meetings at the
>   Working Centre, and hosts a lively e-mail discussion list. The group
>   is free to join, and people of all skill and interest levels are
>   welcome to participate in KWLUG activities. See
>   <http://www.kwlug.org>
>   for more information. 
> - The Kitchener-Waterloo Internet Users Group (KWIUG) is a
>   general-purpose education group that deals with a wide variety of
>   topics relating to computers. They hold occasional meetings and also
>   have a mailing list. See [WHERE?] for more information, or contact
>   Sandy (alexanderh at rogers.com) or Bob (bjonkman at sobac.com) for more
>   information. 
> - The OpenDisc and OpenEducationDisc projects collect high-quality
>   open source software for Windows. [LINK]
> - Ubuntu is a popular Linux distribution for desktop computers. 
>   See <http://www.ubuntu.com> for more information. 
> - The Linux Questions forum at <http://www.linuxquestions.org> is a web
>   forum which helps Linux users troubleshoot computer issues. It
>   contains a lot of good information in its archives, and the members
>   tend to be friendlier than on many other internet sites. 
> - Paul 
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